After coming off their best season in modern franchise history the Sarnia Imperials are looking to be even better in 2016.
The club finished 5-3 in Northern Football Conference (NFC) play and won a playoff game before falling to Ottawa in the league semi-finals.
“We had a great season last year,” said Jake Cherski, head coach, general manager and team president.
“But we want to go even further this year … Our goals are to win our division again this season and to play for a championship this summer.”
The team has done some “heavy recruiting” to bolster the roster, Cherski said.
“Last year we had a 36-man, active roster. This year, we should be around 52 or 53 players, after the final cuts are made.”
And almost everyone from last year’s squad is returning.
“We usually lose about 50 per cent of the team every year,” he said. “This year, we’re only losing one or two players.”
The increased roster should help on the offensive line, which “has always been a sore spot for us,” said Cherski.
“We finally have 12 offensive linemen to choose from. That’ll make a big difference.”
Cherski had high praise for one of the club’s original players, lineman Adam McKinnon.
“He’s been here for 11 years. He’s still one of our key guys,” he said. “It’s always a plus to have a veteran leader like that around.”
Another experienced returnee expected to play an important role is veteran quarterback Pat Wright, who will also serve as an offensive co-ordinator.
“He’ll be a sort of player-coach for us,” said Cherski, who is himself an ‘original’ or the modern-day Imperials.
He served as a player and executive member in 2006, took over as president and GM the following season and, for the past five years, has been head coach.
Cherski said the team was fortunate to have Dillon Grondin at practice, prior to his leaving for the training camp of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Imperials aren’t expecting Grondin to return to play this season, but a pair of Chatham newcomers could make an impact. Jerimiah Hamilton is a running back/slot back that “the whole league will be talking about,” said Cherski, adding Joshua Wright is another player to watch.
The Imperials kick off their eight-game season Saturday, May 28 at 7 p.m. against the Tri-City Outlaws.
Tickets are $7 for adults; 12-and-under free. Season tickets are $20.